White Flint Rising – – Finally

One of the most frequent questions we got in our hundreds of residents’ meetings over the last four years was “When will we see something built?” In fact, in some of our residential communities with a more mature demographic, the question was “will we live to see it?”

We always had to say, “at least a few years.” Well, a few years have passed, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, www.smartergrowth.net, held a very successful walking tour yesterday to view what’s going on. And there was lots going on.

Montgomery County President Nancy Floreen and Councilmember Roger Berliner joined the tour. Floreen announced that the Council would introduce a White Flint infrastructure financing bill on Tuesday, and said that residents should not be disturbed by the County Executive’s incomplete financing proposal from last week. Floreen declared: “It’s our Plan. We’re going to take apart the financing proposal and put it back together so we get this done.” Berliner said: “This is where the future of Montgomery County is going to be taking shape over the next few years.”

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More than sixty people participated in the walking tour, which began at the White Flint Metro station, circled the North Bethesda Center (LCOR – Harris Teeter) block, discussed the differences between the 1960’s-era Mid-Pike Plaza (Federal Realty – Toys R Us, Silver Diner) and the modern urbanism of the sold-out Sterling condominums across the street, looked at the Conference Center block, the Metro Pike Plaza (Holladay Corp. – McDonalds and Stella’s Bakery), and ended with a harrowing walk along Rockville Pike to see the North Bethesda Market (JBG – Whole Foods and residential tower). 

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The tour was led by Nkosi Yearwood, from the Montgomery Planning Board, Evan Goldman from Federal Realty, Dan Hoffman from Randolph Civic Association and the Citizens League of Montgomery County, and me, from Friends of White Flint.

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(Yearwood (L), Goldman, and Hoffman on tour)

Some projects are already underway, including the new third tower for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, right next to the Metro station, where a construction shovel was hard at work as the tour began. NRC (a Friends of White Flint member) has just been voted the best federal workplace (for the third year in a row), and this site next to the Metro station should help it maintain its stellar record of half its employees taking transit to work.

New NRC Building

 At Mid-Pike Plaza, Federal Realty has offered the first “sketch plans” for a massive renovation of the aging center. Construction on the first phase may begin (assuming a reasonable White Flint infrastructure financing plan is adopted) with the building along Old Georgetown Road (labeled “12” on the sketch below) as soon as permits are issued, in perhaps 2012.

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Finally, in the southern end of the White Flint Sector, North Bethesda Market’s Phase One is nearing completion. The extension of Executive Boulevard across Woodglen to Rockville Pike is “awaiting review” by the County before opening. This is one of the new roads, one of several funded and built by the private developers, making up the “smart grid” of streets intended to both increase walkability and decrease congestion on Rockville Pike.  

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Some tenants are already slated. The 26-story residential tower began leasing last week, and retail tenants are beginning construction. Apparently, the modern practice is to finish the outside of the building first, and then the tenants do their own construction, which is why there are temporary coverings on the first- and second-floor retail spaces. Tenants include L.A. Fitness, and a new Seasons 52 restaurant concept, based on locavore and healthful food.

Whole Foods Market, whose regional headquarters is in White Flint, will open a huge store, stretching from Woodglen almost to Rockville Pike, with parking above the store inside the building. Opening is likely to be next summer.

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So, the answer to “when will we see something?” is going to be 2011. With lots more to come.

Barnaby Zall

Um . . . What?

Regular readers will remember that I’m no great fan of County Executive Ike Leggett’s views on White Flint. He and I have had direct conversations on this. I disagree with his promotion of the County Dept. of Transportation’s automobile-centric approach over pedestrian safety and sustainability. I think he is LONG overdue (like, a year) in presenting a plan for financing White Flint’s needed infrastructure. I think he is endangering the entire Plan by reinforcing Montgomery County’s reputation for inconstancy — not being able (or willing) to keep its promises over the long term.

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(Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett at White Flint groundbreaking)

So it is with some amusement that I note that one of Leggett’s erstwhile challengers is criticizing him for his “push for urbanization of Montgomery County in places like White Flint”, as Douglas Rosenfeld, a Republican running in the upcoming Sept. 14 primary election, told the Gazette newspaper.  

 Barnaby Zall

Is America’s Romance with the Car Hitting a Pothole?

Politics Daily’s Delia Lloyd thinks so. Her newest column points out that car sales are down, and not just because of the recession. Part of the change is that other options are becoming more mainstream, as in Google adding intelligent bike routes to its maps. And to some degree, the climate change message is hitting home.

One thing she doesn’t mention is that many areas are now turning to New Urbanism and other transit-oriented planning, so people simply don’t need as many cars. And that trend will accellerate in the future, when new carbon reduction laws kick in. Car costs will rise, and as the recession showed, Americans may still love their cars, but if the dating cost is too high, they’ll cut back.

You can read Lloyd’s column here: http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/03/12/as-the-auto-industry-sputters-is-car-culture-dying/

Barnaby Zall

“Balance” and 30 Seconds

Live blogging from the PHED Committee meeting of January 19, 2010. The topic right now is “land use” vs. traffic congestion. Current law requires a “balance”, measured by tests which calculate how long it takes cars to move specific distances along major roads throughout North Bethesda. For more on these tests, see the prior posts below.

Committee staffer Glenn Orlin is describing his application of these tests, noting that the Council still requires the use of these tests. When he applied them to all of North Bethesda, the White Flint Plan was “out of balance.” Alternative approaches of increasing “mode share” (the percentage of commuters who use something other than cars) or limiting density in White Flint did not bring the area into “balance,” even if it was assumed that no commuters used cars. And limiting density had almost no effect either. So Orlin said the alternative was only to do Phase One of the Plan. That would bring the Plan into “balance” at least at the beginning.

Orlin then noted that they had been told that no developers would go forward with improvements in White Flint because they could not get financing. So Orlin discussed exceptions which past Councils have made in these “balance” tests, including Potomac. One way or another the Plan needs to come into “balance.” Committee staffer Marlene Michaelson added that if the Committee could never find a way to get ‘balance,” it could revise the Plan to get it.

Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson pointed out that the level of service “E” (LOS-E) which the Plan produces in North Bethesda, was “the appropriate level for an urban area.” He pointed out that the problems were outside White Flint.

Diane Schwartz-Jones, from the County Executive’s office, noted that delaying the Plan meant killing it. The development districts they have been considering are predicated on this Plan, the full Plan, not just Phase One. The cost of improvements of Phase One are $88.9 million, with 12 million sq. of commercial space to help pay for the costs. (that is more than the Committee staff recommendation would permit.)

Councilmember Roger Berliner said that the “failure” is less than one minute, and the problem is that the larger policy area gets stressed by that one minute in 2030. Dan Hardy: that’s correct. Berliner: have you done an analysis within WF itself which shows that it fails. Hardy: tough to separate WF from the larger area. We have specific intersections that we have tested. We have greater latitude in WF. Any development in or outside of No Bethesda would be subject to traffic conditions.

Orlin: the reason for looking at balance in WF is that we’ve historically done it this way. Historically the local intersections work when we look at them. The problem occurs just outside the Metro Station Policy Areas (the higher density areas around Metro stations). That’s what happens here: Montrose and Rockville Pike below WF.

Elrich: the capacity measures around the country are not reliable. It’s a legitimate standard. Not that cars speed down Rockville Pike, but that they are unimpeded. 12 miles per hour is the standard. No one is talking about preserving the Pike as a speedway. The question is how far do you let things go. And it’s 130 seconds, and that delay may well cascade up and down the Pike. I’m unwilling to use some of the other modeling tests to see how that performs. I’d like to see the raw numbers. I’d be interested in any other thing we can do differently. I don’t view this as an insoluble problem. I’ve talked to people on both sides of the issue and I haven’t found anyone who says leave Rockville Pike the way it is. I don’t think we’ve worked hard enough to see the answers. If we have to go beyond the limits of the WF Plan to see those solutions, then I think we should do that.  If anything we’ve done calls for stepping back, this problem causes us to do that. What can we do to make this work? Rather than lowering the standard, we don’t have to fix anything; that’s the problem with lowering the standard. Things will become a royal mess because we’ve changed the balance. I think we ought to think about how these things work together. Take a little time to understand where the problems are. I would lke to feel we’re actually solving the problem, not defining the problem away. What’s to stop us from defining the problem away every time we have a problem? I have confidence we can actually solve this.

Berliner: schools moratorium created a context where we got a win-win. What Elrich is saying is analogous. Best outcome would be to use the existing standard to drive other policy objectives. What do we need for our community as a whole to be a smart growth community and WF itself may not be enough. We could adopt policy guidance that could get us where we want to go. That’s what I hope to do over the next several weeks. Maybe we can get to “balance.” Notion that we are making a fundamental decision based on a standard that is about to change is not the most reasonable analysis. But this can be an opportunity, not a challenge.

Floreen: I love the WF Plan. Because the community defined what it wanted and said the community character is what matters most. I have come to say that’s how you should find out what matters. Is the City of Rockville in balance? It doesn’t use this test and it’s a neighbor of WF. Why let 9 Council members define this? Special procedures in place to protect community needs. I will lie down in the middle of Rockville Pike if you make the intersection at Strathmore any bigger. People can’t walk across Strathmore because of the speeds drivers think they’re entitled to. We’re using the wrong standards. You’ve got to get this development district in process to proceed. Partners in creating the community. We’re letting the wrong standards drive us. I can’t explain to difference the difference between 30 seconds and 40. People who live within WF want to see some real improvements. The people nearby are ok with that, they just don’t want it to affect them too much. I find this frustrating.

Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg: I spent the better part of the weekend listening to my neighbors express their frustration about the situation. I’ve had a lot of conversation with people who live in the area, and people are in agreement with the vision. There are details still to be worked out. We’ve been waiting for this for a while. We’ve got to approve the big picture and not just part of it.

Elrich: I differ on this issue of the test causing a problem. All the test shows you is the relative mobility. Historically always said all we can do is add a lane; that’s not requirement of the test. Other way to do it is to change modal splits; we didn’t take that option. Fairfax County new growth policy says you can’t meet your requirement by adding lanes, you have to get people onto transit. We can make a different choice. Let’s drive this toward a transit solution. It’s gotta be bigger than WF. Embrace the broader policy that tries to set these rules everywhere. It’s logical for these developments in Bethesda to give way to the developments in WF. Give Park & Planning some time to come back with more options.

Berliner: I don’t support either proposal from staff. I don’t support the road improvements because that’s the old paradigm we’re desperately trying to get away from. If we do anything to the Pike, it should be the boulevard and BRT and the new things. How close can we get to the standard, as imperfect as it is? Until we’ve tried to get as close as we can to the standard, we’re not in a position to do that.

Knapp: 3 options: change land use, change mobility, or change policy. Timing realities. Things have to be done by. Last time for us to take action in Committee on WF is Feb. 1. Critical piece is the money, which we’ll take up on Jan 26. Infrastructure is necessary under any scenario. Financing piece for infrastructure may be more significant than what the actual test is. We know we don’t want to get caught up on that. We can take some time, but effectively have a week, and look at alternatives and have a financing discussion without tying ourselves up. We could get some perspective from the development community. There’s a window.

Hanson: you all agree on what you want to do, you just want to argue it out. Importance of focussing on vision, what you’re trying to accomplish. Vision is to create a great place, and to do that, there’s some things that will help. Staging discussion is overlooked in this balance discussion. We had extensive discussion in the Planning Board about each stage to show what needs to be there to make that stage function. We have a recommendation of a funding mechanism that makes it possible to get those things there in time for the next stage to take place. We set up some performance standards to trigger each stage. So the staging recommendations ensure that the facilities to support that stage will be available to progress to the next stage. This is unique in sector plans in the County, to figure out how to make this happen. For a long time,, you’ve used the current growth standards to bring a plan into balance, but important factor is that the growth policy standard is for individual subdivisions, a failsafe, which says that if the stuff needed for each subdivision isn’t there, the developer has to wait until it is. That’s a different use of the standard than balancing transportation in a master plan. In a master plan, you’re making a general assumption about how things are going to work many years out. You can add in assumptions, that over the next 30 years we’ll have changes, all these things are to be taken into account. But if the things that are necessary for each stage, then the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, at that time, will be in place to insure that growth doesn’t get ahead of facilities. So don’t use the test for the wrong thing.

Knapp: Bring back at the Feb. 1 meeting. And at the jan 26 meeting. 260 e-mails this morning. But we have a few days to work on this.

Floreen:

Why Taking Transit Makes A Bigger Difference Than Changing a Lightbulb

I came across an interesting chart this evening. It was produced by the American Public Transit Association, www.publictransportation.org, and it shows that taking public transit makes a lot more difference in your own personal carbon emissions “footprint” than anything else you can do:

APTA Savings Chart

The chart is from 2008, but I think the numbers are still good. I realize that it’s a self-serving calculation from an organization that depends on public support for transit, but it has the ring of authenticity.

As I intend to tell the Montgomery County Council next week, the new carbon reduction laws imposed by the State of Maryland may soon overtake most, if not all, of the many sustainability initiatives proposed by the County. That means that the County should be looking as much as possible at ways to reduce carbon. As the APTA chart shows, the number one thing the County should be doing is increasing transit useage and reducing car commuting. That can be done by “green urbanism,” a new coinage for New Urbanism, which itself is a fancy way of saying “ditch the car.”

By the way, just as interesting, is the APTA’s calculation of the actual dollars you would save by taking transit. For people in the Washington, D.C. area in October 2009? $8,824 a year. http://www.publictransportation.org/facts/091006_transit_savings.asp.

 Barnaby Zall

New Red Line Metro Stop – Why?

I was reading today about a MoCo Councilmember’s proposal to put a new metro station between White Flint and Grosvenor, at a cost of $250-$300 million, and I can’t help ask the inevitable question; Why??? You can read about the proposal in several news articles, including this one: http://www.wtop.com/?nid=25&sid=1678097

The Councilmember’s argument is the following: “A new stop would serve a very important purpose, particularly given the growth that is expected in that area as we redo White Flint from a strip mall on steroids to a new urbanism model.”I just don’t see how adding a new metro station ½ a mile away from an existing station would help relieve transit. The area between White Flint and Grosvenor is low density and there is nothing there to walk to, so I would assume that most metro riders that would use that station would have to drive to it.  Also, in the White Flint redevelopment plans, there are no developments planned south of White Flint Mall, so I don’t understand what growth needs would the new station serve? Am I missing something here?

I think that money could be much better spent in other transportation projects to relieve traffic congestion around white flint; such as: 1) Accelerating the construction at Montrose Parkway East, 2) begin the transformation of Rockville Pike conforming to Glatting-Jackson’s design, or 3) developing the network of streets that would take the load off the Pike (also in proposed in Glatting-Jackson’s design).If there really is a need to add a new metro station, wouldn’t it make more sense to put it where there already is a high density, places to go to, and near-term expected growth; such as between White Flint and Twinbrook?

Posted by Waterford